Aaron Hernandez: Updating TE's Fantasy Value After Rob Gronkowski Injury

Zach KruseSenior Analyst INovember 20, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 09:  Tight end Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots congratulates teammate Rob Gronkowski #87 on scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during their season opener at LP Field on September 9, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Despite a shaky playing status for Thursday's matchup against the New York Jets, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez received a big fantasy boost when it was learned fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski would miss significant time with a broken forearm. 

Hernandez, who has missed all but three games this season and each of the last three, is questionable for Week 12's Thanksgiving night clash.

Head coach Bill Belichick wasn't ready to commit to Hernandez (ankle) playing Tuesday, according to Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe

I don’t know. We’ll have to see how close he is or isn’t to playing. Probably make a decision later on in the week, maybe even a game-time decision...I’d definitely put Aaron in the day-by-day category.

While Hernandez's may not be a sure thing for Thursday, Gronkowski is certainly out after undergoing surgery on his broken foreman. He's expected to miss at least four weeks, with the ceiling of his diagnosis at a full eight weeks. 

Albert Breer of NFL Network reported that Gronkowski wants to be back for a Week 14 matchup with the AFC-leading Houston Texans, but that's probably an overly optimistic timeline for such an injury. 

In the meantime, Hernandez is a must-start in all formats and leagues with Gronkowski out. 

Anticipating his return, ESPN projected Hernandez as the No. 8 fantasy tight end during Week 12.

While the Jets are a top-10 fantasy defense against opposing tight ends, the Patriots did burn New York for over 130 yards and a touchdown by Gronkowski and Hernandez back in Week 7. Hernandez caught five passes for 54 yards in that contest. 

In his career, Hernandez has more receptions (23) and yards (303) against the Jets than any other NFL team. 

Those numbers should increase while Hernandez helps pick up the receiving slack for Gronkowski. 

While Hernandez and Gronkowski technically play the same position, their roles within the Patriots offense are much different. Hernandez is the flex, move-around-the-formation tight end, while Gronkowski is the more traditional, in-line blocking tight end. 

Hernandez's role as the move tight end remains the same, and it's likely that more of the offensive game plan will look his way with Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui replacing Gronkowski as the in-line tight end. 

Of course, losing a weapon like Gronkowski can have the opposite effect, where subtracting such a matchup nightmare from the lineup actually shifts focus to the next guy up. But in this case, you can feel comfortable with Hernandez continuing to fill his role. 

As long as he's healthy for Thursday, feel free to start him against the New York Jets. From there, he's a must-start every week with Gronkowski's production missing from the Patriots' lineup.